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December 9, 2006
Response and responsibility: AP's editor speaks
Kathleen Carroll, executive editor and senior vice president of The Associated Press has addressed the rising cacophony of bloggers and pundits insisting that the AP substantiate its recent reporting of six Sunnis being burned alive in Baghdad. They AP editor states:
Well, I am not sure how the AP defines "a small number" (a surprisingly vague term for a statement expounding upon the accuracy of the AP), but let's quantify this in a familiar term, the Google search. As of this writing, when I type in "who is Jamil Hussein", a very specific search term in quotations that will only bring that exact question in the results I find 11,700 returns. A search for "Jamil Hussein" as of now will provide you with 162,000 returns. Sounds like quite a few more people than a "small number" are concerned about the AP's reporting.
But for those looking for an answer to the questions about Jamil Hussein, don't bother with the AP's response. The AP only reiterates the same points it made days ago. In fact, the entire editorial provides little new information germane to the story. Here are the key points of the AP rebuttal:
In other words, you who question us are safely behind your keyboards at home. Apparently the AP editor forgets that in her own piece she acknowledged that it was the U.S. military that called the reporting and source, Jamil Hussein, into question:
How can it be that those pursuing this matter are thousands of miles from Baghdad when chief among them is the US military? Apparently the AP has not so much ignored the US military's questions as it has sneered at them. Why not provide evidentiary substantiation to the report in question instead of insulting those who ask for validation?
Perhaps that statement was meant for just us blogger types. Let's give the AP a little break from specificity and just look at the bloggers. So what would us little old pajama wearing bloggers know about danger? Well the blogger who started this all with questions to the Public Affairs Office in Iraq is Curt at Flopping Aces, a former marine. Seeing as the AP visited my blog several times, maybe they meant me, a Gulf War/Kosovo vet and former army officer. Nice research AP.
Transparent? I would have to agree. Considering that the AP has provided no further information or physical evidence other than anonymous man-on-the-street sources, as though this story were about a fire in downtown Tulsa, without apparent thought or concern to the use of its pages for agenda driven reporting (not by the journalist I am sure, but by the sources) it has become transparent that the AP doesn't expect you to question the great questioner, the AP. And you are not supposed to be smart enough to understand that the streets of Baghdad are as riddled with lies and propaganda as they are bullet holes. Perhaps the AP considers it a better use of its newspaper articles to roll it up and smack you on the nose for being a bad reader.
This is a little misleading. Most of us do not believe that the AP has made Jamil up for literary purposes. Many of us believe there is a source in Iraq who calls himself Jamil Hussein and that the AP writers communicate with him. But since this source reported a story that the AP has spectacularly failed to substantiate with any kind of physical evidence, and since we can not verify his status through official Iraqi or American documentation or that the reported event even took place, it is a supremely fair question to ask if he is who he purports to be. And the fact that the AP doesn't understand the importance of getting an answer to this question, when it is presumably its job to get answers to questions, some might take this as a sign of a level of incompetence at the editorial level.
The editor also tells us that this region of Baghdad is dangerous and horrors in the neighborhood have been reported before:
So what? This is a straw-man that the AP is using to sweep the whole event under the rug. It reminds me of when I hear people say "Nixon was a good president, he just got caught". My thought is always that the two are mutually exclusive. You can not be a good president and a criminal since justice is a cornerstone of leadership. Neither can the AP be a trustworthy news organization and report information that can not be substantiated under scrutiny.
The AP is a good news organization for the most part, it just got caught. It got caught reporting a massacre that did not happen. It got caught using a source that provided false information. But once should be enough for it to admit and investigate how its internal processes failed at a minimum. Now, I will say, I still leave room for the AP to be proved correct but each passing day and each meager attempt to protect its reputation through dissembling instead of discovery makes me more and more skeptical of its story.
A large part of the rebuttal concerns tales of peril with AP reporters and the dangers they face.
I couldn't agree more. They face dangers, they have been killed, and they have been maimed. Just like the many US servicemen and servicewomen that have been killed or maimed. But does the AP expect us to hold our fire, so to speak, because its reporters are in danger? If so, it seems pretty brutal of the AP to go after soldiers and marines when it senses wrong doing on their part. Am I saying they shouldn't? Of course not, but neither should the AP expect absolution because its reporters face danger.
Here is a tip. If the only people testifying to an event occurring are people who have a significant stake in the reporting i.e. propaganda, and you or nobody else can turn up any other evidence of four burned mosques and six burned bodies, then you have probably not checked your facts with the right people. And checking them over and over again with the wrong people will still give you the wrong conclusions. As we say in my business, bad data in- bad data out.
Speaking for me, there is one motivation for investigating the accuracy of the AP. That is the fate of the military members in Iraq. Every new massacre begets more violence and thus endangers our soldiers a little bit more. So while pining away about the fortunes of writers in a dangerous place, consider the fate of the soldiers there as well. If the AP falsely reports a massacre, and there is some reason to believe they have, it only makes it that much more dangerous for our men and women in uniform in Iraq. This simple truth should be obvious. It makes me shudder when I read an AP editor who says nothing about this reality, as if it never even entered her mind.